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Cellulitis In Children


What is cellulitis?

Cellulitis is a bacterial infection that affects the skin and tissues beneath the skin. The infection can happen in any part of your child's body. The most common areas are the arms, legs, and face.

What increases my child's risk for cellulitis?

  • An injury that breaks the skin, such as a bite, scratch, or cut
  • A foreign object under the skin
  • Shared belongings, such as towels or exercise equipment
  • A weak immune system, diabetes, or obesity
  • Athlete's foot or a lack of circulation in his legs
  • Rashes, such as eczema, that cause itching and breaks in the skin

What are the signs and symptoms of cellulitis?

  • Fever, sometimes with chills or sweating
  • A red, warm, swollen area on your child's skin
  • Pain when the area is touched
  • Bumps or blisters (abscess) that may drain pus
  • Bumpy, raised skin that feels like an orange peel
  • Nausea or loss of appetite
  • Swollen, tender lymph nodes, a headache, or weakness

How is cellulitis diagnosed?

Your child's healthcare provider may know your child has cellulitis by looking at and feeling your child's skin. Tell him how long your child has had symptoms, and if anything helps decrease his symptoms. Tell him if your child has ever had a cellulitis infection. Your child also may need any of the following tests:

  • Blood tests may show which bacteria is causing your child's infection.
  • A sample of fluid from one of your child's sores may show what kind of germ is causing his infection.
  • A sample of tissue from your child's infected skin may show what germ is causing his infection. The sample may also show if the infection is caused by another kind of skin disorder.
  • An x-ray, ultrasound, CT, or MRI may show if the infection has spread. Your child may be given contrast liquid to help the infection show up better in the pictures. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has ever had an allergic reaction to contrast liquid. Do not let your child enter the MRI room with anything metal. Metal can cause serious injury. Tell the healthcare provider if your child has any metal in or on his body.

How is cellulitis treated?

Treatment may decrease symptoms, stop the infection from spreading, and cure the infection. Your child may need any of the following:

  • Medicines help treat the bacterial infection or decrease pain.
  • Abscess drainage may be needed to help clean out the infection.
  • Debridement is a procedure used to cut away damaged, dead, or infected tissue to help the wounds heal.

How can I help manage my child's symptoms?

  • Help your child rest more. Rest can help his body heal the infection.
  • Have your child elevate his wound. This will help decrease swelling and pain. Have him elevate the wound above the level of his heart as often as possible. Prop the wound on pillows or blankets to keep it elevated comfortably.
  • Clean the wound as directed. Clean the wound with soap and water, or as directed. Check for signs of infection, such as swelling, redness, or pus.

How can I prevent cellulitis?

  • Protect your child's skin. Have your child wear equipment made for a sport he is playing. For example, have him wear knee and elbow pads when he skates, and a bicycle helmet when he rides his bike. Make sure your child wears shirts and pants that will protect his skin, and sturdy shoes.
  • Wash any scrapes or wounds with soap and water. Put antibiotic cream or ointment, and cover it with a bandage. Check for signs of infection, such as pus or swelling, each time you change the bandage.
  • Do not let your child share personal items, such as towels, clothing, and razors.
  • Have your child wash his hands often. Make sure he washes his hands with soap and water after he uses the bathroom or sneezes. He also needs to wash his hands before he eats. Use lotion to prevent dry, cracked skin.
  • Treat athlete's foot or any other skin condition. This can help prevent a bacterial skin infection by lessening the itching and breaks in the skin.

When should I seek immediate care?

  • Your child's wound gets larger and more painful.
  • Your child has a fever.
  • Your child has a thin, gray-brown discharge coming from his infected skin area.
  • Your child has purple dots or bumps on his skin, or you see bleeding under the skin.
  • Your child has new swelling and pain in his legs.
  • Your child has sudden trouble breathing or chest pain.
  • The red, warm, swollen area gets larger.
  • You see red streaks coming from the infected area.
  • Your child feels weak and dizzy.

When should I contact my child's healthcare provider?

  • Your child's fever or pain does not go away or gets worse.
  • Your child's wound does not get smaller after 2 days of antibiotics.
  • Your child's skin is flaking or peeling off.
  • You have questions or concerns about your child's condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your caregivers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

© 2015 Truven Health Analytics Inc. Information is for End User's use only and may not be sold, redistributed or otherwise used for commercial purposes. All illustrations and images included in CareNotes® are the copyrighted property of A.D.A.M., Inc. or Truven Health Analytics.